Men vs. Women: Betty Grable and Tyrone Power at Their Best

RAF Planes - Romance is in the air
RAF Planes - Romance is in the air, Photo:

I saw this black and white movie on TV the other day. It is called A Yank in the R.A.F., it stars Tyrone Power and Betty Grable and it came out in 1941.

I was curious to watch it for a number of reasons. I’d never seen Betty Grable when she was 25 years old. She was 25 then and was the main pin-up girl for the GIs going to fight in World War II. As for Tyrone Power, he was a major movie star then, but I could not remember seeing any of his movies and wondered what he looked like (he looks like my son David).

Also, a movie about the R.A.F. (Royal Air Force) that came out in 1941 had to have filmed footage of British Spitfires and German Messerschmitts specifically for this movie and this would be a neat trick. When the film was made—in 1940—the two air forces were battling for the supremacy of the skies over England and the only way to film that would be to be in the middle of that fight. How could they have done that? They did. The filmmakers thank the R.A.F. in the credits for allowing them to film their air force in the middle of dangerous circumstances.

The thing I found most interesting about this film, however, is the performance of Tyrone Power and Betty Grable.

The film opens with the scene of an American made fighter plane—a Grumman F4F Wildcat made on Long Island—being towed by a truck across a small bridge that crosses the border between the United States and Canada. A narrator explains. America, which is not yet in World War II, has a law of neutrality that prevents American airplanes from being flown to the British Commonwealth to help the English. Canada is in the Commonwealth. But there is no law against the planes being pushed into Canada. Then Canada can fly them across.

There is a great flurry of activity overhead as this plane is being pushed across. Overhead, a Grumman Wildcat is being illegally FLOWN over the border. It soon lands, and out gets Tyrone Power, an American pilot from Texas who explains to the authorities that what difference does it make how it gets to Canada? The Canadians are very upset, and they say he can’t fly again. On the other hand they need pilots to fly the Wildcats to England. They’d pay him $1,000 a flight to do that.

“A thousand dollars? Gee! Where do I sign?” And that’s how this man gets to England.

There, he accidentally runs into several Americans he knows who have come to England to help out. One is Betty Grable, who’s come over from Texas to nurse the wounded. We learn she ran away from him in Texas and she tells him to stay away from her. Don’t come near her, ever.

“Her name was Arlene,” she says.

“Arlene? So that’s what this is all about. I can explain that. But gee, you didn’t have to pack up and leave in the middle of the night. I woke up and didn’t know where you went.”

“Just stay away from me,” she says.

Grable is gorgeous at 25. Tyrone Power is a cad, though handsome. Thus their courtship continues, which consists of her slamming doors in his face and he grabbing her upper arm as she turns to go and pulling her back. Sometimes he abuses her. “Let me go,” she screams.   But he doesn’t.

An Englishman, played by John Sutton in the movie, takes a fancy to Grable. He is an R.A.F. pilot and he is handsome and nice and entirely well mannered. He takes her out for dinner. On leave one day, he takes her in his roadster to his parent’s estate in the country.

“This can be yours,” he says.

“What do you mean?” Grable asks.

“I would like you to consider marrying me.”

Back in London, the English pilot takes her to her door, asks her if she’s had a nice time which she says she certainly has had, and he asks to come in and when she says she’d rather not, he offers her his hand and asks if she’d see him on Thursday.

Tyrone Power makes a date with her, shows up two hours late because he runs into an American friend he knows from back home, takes a liking to the sister of his date and joins the three of them to a club for awhile. Then, at Betty Grable’s door, when he asks to come in, she tells him she’s breaking up with him for good, tries to close the door, which he forces to stay open and then walks past her and says, “You need to have fewer lights on in here.”

In the last romantic scene between the two of them, she tells him she never wants to see him again because she is getting married and he says, “So it’s marriage you want, I’d marry you tomorrow, how about tonight? I’ve got this ring right here.”

He then grabs her, kisses her, throws her onto a sofa, jumps on top of her and forcibly pushes the ring onto her finger. “You’re hurting me!” she cries, and he kisses her to muffle her cries, then says “I’ll make it legal in the morning.” “Get off of me” she shouts. She’s fighting with her arms and legs to no effect. “You’re MY woman,” he says.

Of course, the two men have now found out about the interest they each have in Grable. They glare at one another. But the Englishman is the pilot of this British bomber. And Tyrone Power is the co-pilot and bombardier, so they have to work together.

So who do you think she chooses? If this were today, she’d have Power arrested for assault.   Indeed, even considering it was 1941 I voted for the other guy and his estate in the country.

So the two men go off to fight as the British troops are being evacuated from France at Dunkirk. The Germans have the British army almost surrounded and are pushing them into the sea. The Luftwaffe is dropping bombs on them. The two fliers go off in their aircR.A.F.t to fight off the Luftwaffe. And they crash and we don’t at first know what’s happened to them.

Now we’re at the dock in Brighton where the last of the English ships is arriving bearing the wounded and weary and beaten British soldiers. Grable is told the Englishman is onboard, and he is okay. But she can’t even think of him. She stands at the gangplank.

“Oh Tim! Tim!” she is shouting. Tim is Tyrone Power. “He’s got to be on this ship. He’s got to be okay. Nothing bad ever happens to Tim. But where is he?”

And of course, there he is, in a bandage, limping, but okay, coming down the gangplank and wouldn’t you know it she rushes through the crowd and part way up the gangplank and there they embrace and kiss as she sobs and calls his name. The End.

Now THAT’S a way to get a woman! No? Okay.

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